Cornwall’s Secret History
Published: Monday 2nd Dec 2019
With a history spanning thousands of years and vast swathes of land untouched by modern hands, Cornwall has plenty of secrets tucked up its sleeves. Sometimes hidden in plain sight and other times parcelled away in forgotten corners, Cornwall’s secret history is peppered with fascinating glimpses into the lives of our forebears.
Take a look through some of the lesser known historical sites in Cornwall and take yourself on an intriguing journey through time, from Bronze Age burial chambers to Georgian en-suite bathrooms in the cliffs.
Castle an Dinas
Not far from St Columb Major, Castle an Dinas is one of the most important hillforts in South West Britain. Taking pride of place atop Castle Downs and boasting incredible panoramic views, it is not only a lovely spot for a fresh air-filled stroll but also a mind-boggling time capsule with over 1000 years of history. As well as being the site of a critical Council of War meeting during the English Civil War and a spooky ghost army in the 18th Century (recorded by Cornishman Samuel Drew), Castle an Dinas was also the hunting lodge of legendary King Arthur.
Duloe Stone Circle
Winding around the country lanes near Duloe village in South Cornwall, you will eventually come across signposts for Duloe Stone Circle. Cited by the well-known Cornish geologist William Borlase in 1754, the oval-shaped ring consists of eight white quartzite stones that stand like jagged teeth from the earthy gums of the field. Thought to date back to the Bronze Age, it is claimed that an urn full of bones was found under one of the stones, but was smashed and turned to dust.
John Stackhouse’s Cliff-Suite Bathroom
A real hidden masterpiece found in an unmarked Cornish cove near Acton Castle, this particular bathroom has something rather peculiar about it – it’s buried in a cliff. Entered by a narrow opening, an unlit, 4-meter long tunnel leads you to the world’s most unusual en-suite Georgian bathroom. The project of botanist John Stackhouse, the 18th Century bathroom includes a man-sized bath carved into the rock within a gaping chamber, filled with seawater and water from a natural spring. Now fancy that!
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006 alongside the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu, the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape includes such well-known places as Geevor Tin Mine and Levant Mine. But did you know there was another piece of the puzzle hidden in Kennall Vale? Established in 1811, the eerie remains of the Kennall Gunpowder Company can still be seen amongst the tangled woodland of Kennall Vale. Once the main supplier of explosives in West Cornwall for mining and quarrying, the company collapsed in the late 18th Century following the replacement of gunpowder with nitro-glycerine based high explosives.
A piece of Cornwall’s more recent history, the wreck of the RMS Mulheim is something that can be easily overlooked. A stark reminder of the unforgiving nature of the sea and the ephemeral chapters of Cornish history, the skeletal remains of the ship can be seen squeezed into a narrow cove between Sennen and Land’s End. Following the South West Coast Path, keep your eyes peeled for the vessel (wrecked in 2003 – all on board were safely rescued), catching a glimpse before it is reclaimed by the sea and the steady footsteps of time.
A fairy-tale-esque chapel carved into a 20-meter high rocky outcrop, Rock Chapel has origins dating back to Medieval times. Cut into the bedrock atop Roche Rock, a geological marvel soaring above the St Austell Downs, this chapel has naturally accumulated a wealth of stories. Thought to have been built upon on a pre-existing religious site and used as a beacon for travellers and pilgrims, some also believe the chapel was where the infamous Jan Tregeagle (a legendary Cornish figure) sought shelter from the Devil.
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